JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. -- Dinner’s over, and I have to go to the bathroom. Walking to the “facilities” — a tree 50 feet from the front door — I stumble into a snowdrift. My landing is soft — Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort has reported 10 inches of fresh snow in the past 24 hours — and I don’t have to go that badly, so I lie down rather than rush.
With the day’s storm over, more stars than I’ve ever seen twinkle above. Someone told me that if I stare at the sky here long enough, I’m certain to spot a satellite. I give it until a pine bough above releases a poof of powder into my upturned face. Snow fast melting inside my down jacket, I get a bit chilled. Which would be a problem if I were truly winter camping.
But my ski buddies and I have rented the resort’s yurt for the night. I’m embarrassed to have lived in this valley and skied at this resort for 15 years and to have just now discovered this accommodation. Everyone else in my group has done yurt trips and winter camping excursions, specifically the Bench Hut in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains, the Beaver Creek Cabin in Montana’s Gallatin National Forest, and tent/snow cave camping deep in nearby Grand Teton National Park.
I definitely prefer yurts to tents. The former, which are circular one-room structures that Central Asian nomads have been living in for thousands of years, give you room to spread out, space to dry your wet clothes and boots, a basic kitchen, bunks and, most important when spending a night in the wild where temperatures routinely dip below zero, a wood-burning stove.
Tents, which I’ve spent more winter nights in than I can count, are just a pain. Do it to say you’ve done it. Once. And then reserve a yurt, preferably this one.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort’s yurt surpasses any that I’ve ever seen. Most yurts are in the backcountry. Getting to them requires several hours of exertion, schlepping backpacks loaded with food and supplies using snowshoes or specialized ski gear.
At Jackson Hole, you take the 100-passenger tram to the 10,450-foot summit of Rendezvous Mountain and ski down to the yurt.
And it comes with a yurtmeister.
Even before yurtmeister Mike Ross called me to go over menu details and explain what a yurtmeister does, the word itself made me smile. I imagined how much a title like that would make a resume stand out.
After learning that Mike would be taking care of all the cooking and cleaning during our stay and carrying in our food, I graduate from smiling. I’m in love.
Without a yurtmeister, yurts can be fairly labor-intensive. There’s wood to split, snow to melt and strain for water, dinner to cook under beams of light from headlamps and dishes to wash and rinse in water often flecked with pine needles. Of course, these chores don’t go away here, but the responsibility for them does.
My group meets yurtmeister Mike at the staff-only entrance to the tram on the deck of the resort’s Nick Wilson’s Cowboy Cafe at 3 p.m. (The usual meeting time is earlier, but we voted to ski some more rather than settle into the yurt early.)
Thinking ahead to the flask of Baileys Irish Cream in my pack, I ask Mike whether there’s time to run next door to the Village Cafe, which uses beans from my favorite roaster (Caffe Ibis in Logan, Utah) to brew espresso topped with some of the thickest crema around. I have the barista fill my insulated stainless-steel spill-proof Thermos coffee mug with a double.